Reducing Buffalo's crime problems will require more police on the street. Efforts to reduce crime, push for solutions to old cases and combat gang and drug-related violence are running up against previously agreed deeper cuts into the ranks of the Buffalo Police Department.
The rise in crime needs to be met by a force that can overcome it, so the department's staffing will need to be bolstered. City Hall still has the responsibility to deliver services, and one of the most important of those services is safety and security. At the same time, taxpayers have the right to know and understand that the department is operating not only effectively but efficiently.
The mayor and police commissioner have been citing a need for more officers, and Buffalo control board Vice Chairwoman Alair Townsend said recently that while reductions were negotiated with the police union, "plans and circumstances change."
The Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority was, and is, the sole force that has restrained city spending, directly or indirectly, by providing the hammer that backs up city cost-reduction initiatives that would be politically impossible otherwise. The board's recognition of possible manpower issues indicates a priority and signals a willingness to change to address this problem. The board should act quickly to evaluate this situation:
*Will the addition of officers substantially reduce overtime, or will the 100 new officers Mayor Byron W. Brown is seeking to fund initially through state aid eventually drive up those costs?
*Does the number of Buffalo's officers who are off duty because of injuries or other reasons -- there are 100, equal to 15 percent of the force -- compare well to similar police departments? Can anything be done to get some officers back to work?
*The numbers show that 23 officers of various levels and details saw their total pay, boosted by overtime, top $100,000 a year. The top overtime-boosted pay reached $157,450, even as a three-year wage freeze continues to cause controversy and bad feelings in the ranks. Will exceptionally high overtime, when earned near retirement, drive up pension costs for taxpayers?
In the early 1900s, Buffalo fielded 998 sworn police officers. Today, after cutbacks, wage freezes and a change from two-officer patrol cars to one-person units, there are 743 members of the force, including those on injury or other types of leave. The earlier agreement would further reduce the authorized number of police billets to 675, also inevitably affected by injury or illness leaves.
A new University at Buffalo study, meanwhile, shows that Buffalo has fewer police officers per resident than most other Midwestern and Northeastern cities. Given street crime and other increasing policing needs, that would indicate a need for more patrol officers and detectives.